Category Archives: Sources

The Bridges family of Lawford and John Constable’s portrait

A family of eight stand around a piano. Through the window behind them, a church tower can just about be seen.

The Bridges Family 1804 John Constable 1776-1837 Presented by Mrs Walter Bogue Bridges 1952 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06130. CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0. Photo © Tate

If you’re from north-east Essex, and perhaps if you’re from south-east Suffolk, you cannot avoid John Constable. My grandma had a print of The Haywain above her television, and we had Constable table mats. I grew up eating my Sunday roast while gazing down around the edge of the plate at what I could see of the horse outside Flatford mill, and the boat-builders along the river. If you go for a row at Dedham, you round a bend, and you’re suddenly in one of his paintings.

In 1804, John Constable painted a portrait of the Bridges family, who lived in Lawford. Pater familias George was a banker and a corn merchant, and Lawford Place was built by him in about 1790.1)If the house was built then, where did the family live when their eldest child was born in Lawford in 1788? Was the house perhaps built earlier than 1790? It’s a famous painting (although didn’t feature in our table mat set), and I became curious about it while transcribing Lawford’s parish register, covering 1764-1812. Were the sitters in the register?

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. If the house was built then, where did the family live when their eldest child was born in Lawford in 1788? Was the house perhaps built earlier than 1790?

Updates – Lawford

I’ve finished transcribing the earlier parish register (1558-1764) for Lawford in north-east Essex. It’s right by the Suffolk border, so you might find some ancestors wandering across.

I’ll be adding the transcriptions to this site over the next few days. Baptisms 1558-1764 – that’s over 1,500 in total – have been added. Look out for burials and marriages – which includes the marriage of Princess Diana’s 10 x great-grandparents.

I’m currently finishing off Brightlingsea‘s pre-1812 burials, so they’ll be going online next, followed by Manningtree‘s Methodist records.

Then I’ll return to Lawford, and transcribe the register covering baptisms and burials 1764-1812.

I have my eye on Langham’s earlier register at the moment, or will I do more Dedham records? We shall see what I transcribe next….

Did Jane Austen fake a marriage?

Ahhh, see, I told you that notes left in parish registers are endlessly fascinating!

Not only is it possible (at least I think so) that Charlotte Brontë got the surname of her heroine from the printer who manufactured parish registers, but Jane Austen, another vicar’s daughter, was actually writing in the marriage register.

The BBC has reported this as “‘Mischievous’ Jane Austen faked Steventon marriage records” which makes her sound like Sir Percival Glyde in The Woman in White. And there’s more: “Novelist Jane Austen created fake entries in a marriage register linking herself with two separate men, it has emerged.” Blimey! The strumpet! She’s committed both bigamy and fraud!

Well… no. Had she filled out a form in the parish register like so:

Layer-de-la-Haye marriage register 1754-1812. ERO ref: D/P 255/1/2. Image reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office.

She would have been in rather a lot of trouble. From 1754 and the Hardwicke Act, marriages were far more regulated than they had been. At least one of the couple had to be resident in the parish they were marrying in, and the marriage had to be by banns or by licence. Banns were called on three consecutive Sundays in church, or a licence had to be paid for and would involve a fine if it turned out the marriage was illegal. If you were so rich that you owned half the British Isles, you could of course get a special licence and marry wherever the heck you liked. You’d also need two witnesses and a clergyman to perform the marriage, and then the spouses either signed or marked the register. The example above (the marriage of my 6 x gt-grandparents) shows that they got married by licence (Elizabeth was pregnant at the time, so the licence sped things up without having to wait for banns to be called), and they both marked – although note that Elizabeth signed with an E, which suggests she wasn’t quite as illiterate as it might at first appear.

If you look at the BBC article, you can see one of Jane’s works.

Hampshire Archives, from the BBC website.

She’s written the groom’s name as “Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam” where it says “AB” and added “London” as his abode, and then her own name where it says “CD”, and her home parish as her abode. Would Mr Fitzwilliam, bearer of such a grand name, want to marry by banns, though, one wonders?

Look at that example from 1767, and you’ll notice they’re different forms. On the page that Jane Austen graffitied, you can see the other side of the leaf – the title page of the register – showing through. What she “edited” was the example which was printed at the front of every marriage register, so that clergymen would understand how to follow the new layout. And it’s showing how to lay out the publication of the banns – it’s not a marriage entry.

Perhaps she didn’t expect her father to see it, or perhaps he spotted it and laughed.

It’s certainly a fun thing to find – but it was found, in fact, some time ago (“it has emerged” is rather misleading. This “emerged” years back). It is quite the hyperbolic headline – she falsified a marriage record! Well… she did, but not in quite the way you’d assume from the breaking-news tone.

It does go to show though, what you’ll find in parish registers. Poisonings, death by a bell falling out of a steeple, children born in barns, locals trashing a pulpit, extreme weather, and maybe the graffiti of a vicar’s imaginative teenager daughter.

You’ll be able to see this on display in Winchester from May.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

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News! I’m doing a talk at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 at the NEC in Birmingham.

In “Turn your family tree surprises into a book”, I’ll explain how I pieced together alarming discoveries from my own research and turned it into a book. I’ll talk about the sorts of historical resources that you might find helpful for your research, and then I’ll take you through different ways to share your writing.

It’s on Saturday 8th April from 11.15am to 12pm. There’s a full list of all the workshops running over the three days, and remember that there’s loads of stalls from all sorts of family history societies, and vendors selling archival storage materials (I can’t be the only person who finds that exciting), and lots of knowledgeable and interesting people to speak to – photograph daters, heirloom detectives, etc etc etc.

 

Review: Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015

I’d never been to WDYTYA? Live before, and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Everyone speaks about it in excitable tones, and now that it’s held in Birmingham at the NEC, rather close to where I live, it would be rude if I didn’t go.

It was so interesting speaking to people involved in genealogy in different ways. I really learnt a lot, and by the end of the day was exhausted from wandering about from stall to stall, and absorbing lots of new information. I was, however, pepped up by an enormous scone (slathered in clotted cream and Essex’s finest Tiptree jam!) at the 1939 tearooms, which was most welcome.

Time-travelling scone-munching

Time-travelling scone-munching

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FreeREG’s new look

After a great deal of work, the new interface for FreeREG is now online: FreeREG2. It sits over a database that contains 20,000,000 parish register transcriptions (and counting) from across the UK. I transcribe for FreeREG (the transcriptions I do are the same ones I put online here) and also use it for my own research, so I’ve been having fun acquainting myself with the new system.

free-reg2-search

 

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1934 hotel adverts from the ABC railway guide

In researching my novel, which is set in the mid-1930s, I needed to do some research into train journey times. As any good Agatha Christie fan will know, the ABC railway guide was just what I needed, and I managed to get hold of a very exhausted one for April 1934 (Christie’s novel, The A. B. C. Murders, was published in January 1936). The ABC was first published in 1853, and was very much London-centric. So you can find out the 9.19am train from Wivenhoe arrived at London Liverpool Street at 10.36am (and operated on Mondays only) but if you want the times of trains from Wivenhoe to Colchester… well… this guide isn’t going to tell you.

The front of the book, before the timetables, is filled with hotel adverts. Starting with London, they are then alphabetical by the name of the town or city, and include the Channel Islands.

Most of the adverts (and there are hundreds!) are not very interesting – it’s incredible how similar hotel frontages at the time were. The ad will consist of an exterior photo or line-drawing of the hotel, very standard font and blurb about the hotel – such as the adverts for The Royal Esplanade, Seaford and Ryde Castle Hotels in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Rustington I have included here for looking like Mr. Rochester’s house in “Jane Eyre”, with its crenellations.

However, the bulk of the adverts in this gallery (follow the link to Flickr or see the slideshow below) are in fact not representational, and have been included here because they are rather interesting.

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How to date a photograph… perhaps

The Ashworth/Harris group with Elizabeth Shrimpton at the centre.

The Ashworth/Harris group with Elizabeth Shrimpton at the centre.

I’m very lucky that so many photos of my relatives have survived. The above is one of my favourites – a family group – and I have been trying for some time to identify all the sitters. On the back row on the left, we have my great-grandfather, John Henry Nunn (1862-1936). On the middle row, third from the left, we have John’s wife – my great-grandmother Frances Louise, née Ashworth (1876-1961). The older lady sitting on Frances’ left was identified by my grandad’s cousin Dorothy (1912-2011) as Elizabeth, née Shrimpton (1840-1915).

Dorothy remembered Elizabeth (her grandmother) as an elderly, bedridden lady, who didn’t seem to mind her young grandchildren romping about on her bed.1)Dorothy was remembering something that happened to her as a toddler, which might make people scoff, but I have oddly vivid memories from that age myself – snapshots of being at playgroup before I started school, and of my brother’s birth when I was three. Elizabeth was the mother of nine children, and grandmother to many more. Her life story is quite interesting – it turns out that she was never actually married to her second husband, James Thomas Ashworth (1849-1890), and as a teenager, she hung about in a London park with an uncle, a soldier invalided out of the Army during the Crimean War. She was illegitimate and it seems that she moved from Chesham in Buckinghamshire (where she was washed under the pump every morning in the yard outside their cottage, even in the middle of winter) to London with her aunts.

But aside from that – I wanted to see if I could date the above photograph (which might help me identify the people in it), and so analysed it for possible clues.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Dorothy was remembering something that happened to her as a toddler, which might make people scoff, but I have oddly vivid memories from that age myself – snapshots of being at playgroup before I started school, and of my brother’s birth when I was three.